Not Shut Up

After months of obstruction from the Ministry of Justice my piece on Not Shut Up, the remarkable charity and magazine of the same name that inspires and teaches creative writing and arts projects in prisons, detention and remand centres has finally made it into The Independent on Sunday’s New Review magazine. Not Shut Up also encourages and publishes the work of prisoners once they leave prison in an attempt to slow down the revolving door that sees so many going straight back inside. As well as imprisoning more people per head of population any other nation in Europe, reoffending rates in the UK are alarmingly high. Not Shut Up may be small but it is decidedly more effective and constructive than successive government policies towards prison and prisoners. The people I met doing this piece were interesting and engaging and have displayed great integrity and achievement against the odds. Check out Not Shut Up at  The need support and championing. View article

Escape to Europe

And so the great migration into Europe continues from war-torn Syria, Libya, the continuing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the brutal dictatorships of Eritrea and Somalia.  Several hundred more have drowned off the Italian island of Lampedusa and more than 2,000 rescued by the Italian coastguard in the first two months of 2015 while the EU response is depressingly and deplorably inadequate. Politicians like Cameron believe that rescuing migrants encourages trafficking and that most of those who risk and lose their lives getting to Europe are benefit scroungers. Around 23,000 migrants have died attempting to reach Europe since 2000. The Mediterranean is called the graveyard of the desperate. This is the story of Fanus who is just 18 and made the 2,700 km-journey from her home in Eritrea to Sweden, surviving kidnapping in the Sahara and a sinking boat off Lampedusa in which 363 people including children died. This is not the story of a benefit scrounger. View article

Hidden epidemic

This story took me to Berlin to interview Maria Petrova who is from Ukraine and HIV positive. AIDS and HIV infection are increasing alarmingly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia where there are 100,000 AIDS deaths a year, up by more than 25 per cent since 2005. The problem is especially bad in Russia, where the authorities treat those with HIV and drug users by throwing them into jail. HIV clinics are regularly attacked by the police. Support and medical programmes in Ukraine have been severely hampered by the current crisis there. And now the Russians have illegally annexed the Crimea drug users there have been denied methadone and other opiate substitutes because they are illegal in Russia. Maria is lucky because she is being treated successfully at a clinic in Berlin in way that we take for granted in the West and which means she will live with HIV. If she had not come to Germany she knows she would be dead by now. One brave woman’s moving story.  View article

Pact with the Devil

This is one of the more unusual stores I have covered. Marina Nemat was 16 when she was arrested in her native Iran and thrown into Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison for protesting against the lack of education in school. In Evin she was rescued from a firing squad by one of her interrogators. For this act of mercy he forced her to marry him―threatening to have her boyfriend Andre executed if she refused―and raped her repeatedly. Marina’s book, Prisoner of Tehran: The End of Childhood in Iran, tells how she got out of jail after her husband was shot and with Andre managed to eventually get to Canada where they now live. I went to Toronto to meet her for The Telegraph Magazine. View article    


Victims of honour

This story also took me to Berlin to focus on a tragic case of 23-year-old mother Hatun Sürücü who wanted to live her own life and choose her own friends and was gunned down at a bus stop in the Tempelhof district of the city by her brother. Honour killing is not confined to Germany. It is happening all over Europe where thousands of girls and women who resist forced marriage or attempt to leave abusive marriages are murdered by their families. This story appeared in 21 editions of Reader’s Digest magazine in 17 languages and was read by upwards of five million people, many of whom do not realise that women they pass in the streets could end up being murdered just for wanting to be themselves. View article  

My fight to save my mother

A lot has happened in Ukraine since I wrote this piece for The Observer Magazine about Eugenia Tymoshenko’s campaign to free her mother, Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Yulia from jail. In the murky world of Ukrainian politics ‘Lady Yu’ was not without her critics and had made enemies of the then President Yanukovich who jailed her. He has since been deposed and Yulia Tymoshenko is free. What interested me more however was how Eugenia, whose only experience of life was running an Italian restaurant in Kiev and being married to a minor British rock star, was transformed out of necessity into a campaigning force who addressed the United Nations and the EU. View article    

Let’s work

In the face of a growing anti-migrant movement across Europe, manufacturing giant Siemens is taking a very different tack in Germany, which like many countries faces a looming skills shortage. It has launched a pioneering scheme to offer training and apprenticeships to those seeking refuge from terror and tyranny. I went to meet some of them in Berlin. View article